“Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain”
– The Cascades
When starting out in the rain, it takes some getting used to. You have a brief period of time–a sweet spot–where everything is fine. You are used to the rain and the cold. Then, after about 38 seconds of sweet spot time, the water seeps into a crack between your socks and your plastic grocery bags, gets to the bottom of your shoe and immediately soaks your entire foot. Or a car hits a puddle at the perfect time, drenching you entirely.
Once your feet are wet, the day is over, life ruined.
Fondly, I am reminded of other memorable trips made in the rain. Our RTYD II attempt was accompanied by two rainfalls over the course of the day including one interesting section of outstripping a thunderstorm nearby. I also remember one ride through Ravenna, OH, that I had to cut short because the torrential downpour caused me to have to walk the bike on the sidewalk to avoid the rivulets of water cascading down the road.
On Saturday, I was up against a dreary, dismal drizzle followed by a misting followed by a drizzle, which doesn’t sound very menacing by itself. But when the temperature sits at a cool 41 degrees, that misting-slash-drizzle can cause a real chill that seeps into you slowly and deliberately.
I started the day with a breakfast of oatmeal pancakes. I really like this recipe because it makes so many with one batch that I have enough for three weekend meals. I accompanied the pancakes with bacon and some orange juice. I had a mango about 45 minutes before the ride as well. I left around 11:30am, suited up in a windbreaker with a hoodie and motorcycle pants that D got me that do keep the rain from drenching your legs but that also produce such a sauna environment that your legs end up soaked anyway from your own sweat. I do not own waterproof gloves so I brought an extra pair that I switched to after the first 20 miles when my hands went numb. I also ate an Appalachian Trail cookie at the 20-mile mark and had a Special K Coconut Cashew bar at mile 30.
A bunch of factors led me to reduce the number of miles I rode on Saturday. Technically, according to the current structure of my training schedule, I should have biked between 70-75 miles and I clocked in at just over 40 miles that day. The cold certainly played a factor in this with numb hands and feet by mile 20 and only a small reprieve for my hands by switching gloves. Also, the situation with my calf that prevented me from riding for almost two whole weeks meant that I’m not used to the same distances even though it was only that short amount of time taken off.
In terms of my calf, I skipped riding last weekend but still tried to stay active, putting in a 4-mile walk on Saturday. However, following that walk, I found that my calf hurt worse and all over rather than in one single spot like before. Because of that pain, I shut down activity for Sunday and even had my wife drive me halfway to work on Monday and Tuesday to avoid excessive walking. In that time, I received a compression sleeve that I started wearing throughout the day and I started applying Emu cream as recommended by my Pop. I started out with a shorter ride on Wednesday and then tried to get back into the rhythm of weekly rides with my standard 20-mile way in on Thursday and Friday. I wound up around 70 miles for the week heading into Saturday. Overall, I did not notice any significant pain in the calf on any ride.
Sunday started with the same breakfast and warmer temperatures so I went out at noon to attempt the 70-mile distance heading farther South down Route 1 than I have gone before. For mid-ride snacks, I brought along some App Trail Cookies and Special K Coconut bars, which I ate every 10 miles starting at the 20-mile mark. I also supplemented these with a few sips every 10 miles of a homemade smoothie consisting of orange juice, banana, and frozen mango. This was a nice switch from the dry monotony of granola and cookie.
The first part of the trip was pretty great. I felt good for the duration of my time on Route 1 and turned East to find a new road to head back North.
Here is where the ride turned very Iowa.
I got caught on dirt road nonsense again for well over eight miles of dirt turning, gravel spitting, slip sliding nonstop awfulness. That came about halfway through the 70 miles and was quite the downer because you cannot maintain normal speed and you cannot enjoy the trip at all because your attention is all on finding the one minuscule lane of slightly packed normal ground that will make the biking not horrendous. I even called my wife halfway through to see if she could check Google Street View to find a way out of that nonsense. Egad.
Once I got to blessed civilized pavement, the ride was quite straightforward. I did notice significant leg fatigue by mile 50, which is very similar to what I noticed two weekends ago on my 65-mile ride. Hopefully, as training continues, this fatigue will set in much later.
Hitting the goal of 70 miles on Sunday was important, I think. Given the derailment of the training schedule with the calf snafu, I could have simply done another shorter ride, say another 40 miles, and chalked it up to getting back into the swing of things. However, I am a firm believer in the slippery slope that is fitness and exercise that says one justification opens the door to more and more. You are starting to watch what you eat and within a week, you justify a cheat day and boom, you are off the diet almost before it started. This training schedule I have laid out for myself is easily derailed. Each week is going to get more and more difficult. If I justify skipping out a certain distance because of weather or “getting back on track” then it will be even easier to justify something similar the next week when I have 10 more miles to do over the two weekend rides.
Now, if my calf did actually still hurt or didn’t seem close to 100%, I would have an actual reason to keep the distance short or to not ride at all, but my calf seemed to be holding up well after the extended rest. With the standard rest day tomorrow, we shall see how all parts of my body respond because this next week is going to be even more difficult as it should be my first week of breaking the 200-mile mark.
The distances are reaching the point where mental is becoming as important as physical fitness. Once distances reach a certain threshold where you get 30 miles in and realize you are only a third of the way done or halfway there, your mind starts to ponder whether or not you can finish the ride. That is the point where you have to remember past rides and not get too bogged down in the math. I am constantly doing math on my rides, looking at my watch to see my current speed, my average speed, how many miles I have gone so that I can guesstimate how soon I can finish the ride.
I play mind games with myself when things are going poorly by doing such calculations as “if I can keep going this speed for the next two hours, it’ll be fine.”
The first time I noticed this during the training so far was two weeks ago and those thoughts cropped up again on Saturday when I was deciding whether or not I could do another 30 miles in the wet and cold. My mental strength is something that will have to keep being built up so that when I get to day three of the July ride, I am not paralyzed by the thought that I’m not even halfway done with the ride with just 300 miles completed.
Given the calf situation these past two weeks, I wanted to see how it would stand up to a longer ride without taxing it for a full 70 miles, which is ultimately why I made the decision to swap the long and short rides this weekend.
There may be some benefit to adopting this idea going forward. Perhaps a better way to train is to do the shorter distance on Saturday and the longer distance on Sunday because the entire point of these long weekend rides is to get used to getting back on the bike after riding a significant distance the day before. If I go with the shorter Saturday, that would be coming off of my weekly aim of 100 miles of commuting and I would need to follow up those 100 miles over four days with a 40+ mile ride followed by a much longer ride on Sunday. The other side of that would be having my Monday rest day following the longest ride of the week instead of the second longest. I will need to think about the best approach to this for upcoming weeks.